Mighty Rabbit Studios' president talks hover boards, Transformers and making fans happy.
Mighty Rabbit Studios' Saturday Morning RPG is one of the more fascinating games on the App Store, not only because of its premise (a role-playing adventure inspired by cartoons from the 80s, complete with Trapper Keeper style notebooks to store power-ups), but also its evolution. Released episodically, the first chapter impressed critics and fans, despite a few glaring issues that were fixed in Episode 2. Now with Episode 3: To Bot Or Not To Bot, on the horizon, Mighty Rabbit Studios' President, Josh Fairhurst, spoke candidly about the new features, as well as the valuable lessons the team learned since the game first launched in April 2012.
Let's talk about Episode 3. What changes can players expect this time around?
The biggest change we added is a hover board that functions kind of like the bike in Pokemon. It increases your movement speed drastically, which is important because Episode 3 has some massive environments. We also added a bunch of new enemies that have unique dynamics that mix up the flow of the battle. Episode 3 is primarily a Transformers parody, so you end up fighting a lot of transforming robots, which translates to battles in a key way. Essentially, when an enemy transforms into a vehicle, it turtles up and becomes incredibly well defended, but it can't attack you. This means that you have to focus all your attacks on enemies who are not transformed. It ends up being pretty fun in practice. We also added these small enemies called Sphere Bots that explode when you kill them. That explosion damages every other enemy, so it becomes key to dispatch Sphere Bots first. Oh, and on top of that, certain enemies launch large projectiles that can be deflected back with a well-timed defense.
Keeping with this, how has Saturday Morning RPG evolved since Episode 1?
After we launched Episode 1 and 2, we studied all the feedback we could get. We checked forums, reviews, our analytics database, and anything else we had on hand. We wrote down the most common complaints and addressed them as fast as possible. One of the big things people hated was the rapid-tap charging mechanic, so we added two other methods to charge your power (for a total of three). The sad thing about that is we had close to 10 different publishers test the game, and none of their feedback ever came back with negative comments on the charging mechanic. Most loved it. We'd also had thousands of play testers before we released, including several big names in the game industry, and charging never raised a red flag. It kind of shocked me when the most common thread in reviews and customer comments was that charging was not fun.
In addition to charging fixes, we made it easier to do a few of the mini-games, and we reduced the difficulty of a few fights, where analytics were showing a lot of deaths. We're doing our best to respond and react to player feedback in a receptive manner. Ultimately, we're failing our jobs if the players don't like the game.
Another thing we saw in reviews was that players hated our tutorial. The Episode 3 update completely changes the tutorial flow in Episode 1. We cut down on the wordiness by 99 percent. It's much more concise. We're also trusting the user to figure out the battle system on their own, which I hope works out.
You mentioned player deaths. What software do you use to track a person's progress?
We've been using Google Analytics, which really isn't ideal for games, but gets the job done. We use it to track pretty much every event that happens in the game: how many stickers have been scratched, how many of each enemy have been killed, what objects are used most frequently, what collectibles are being found, damage dealt by enemies and most importantly, when and where players die. We were able to use the data on player deaths to figure out which encounters were too hard. When we did our last update, we used that data to re-balance the difficult fights and even reposition some of those fights in the world to make them optional. We're really trying our hardest to make sure the game is fun for everyone, which is tough, because everyone perceives difficulty differently.
We're not really doing much of the traditional stuff with analytics. We don't track any personal data on our users. The sole purpose of our analytics integration is to improve the overall user experience.
Perhaps more importantly, what has the team learned throughout this experience?
Never launch an incredibly niche title as a free game. That's the biggest thing we learned.
Care to elaborate? What would you guys have done differently?
Frankly, the game has not been a financial success, even with over 250,000 downloads and relatively good reviews. A lot of people are downloading the free episode and only playing it for 30 minutes. Those are the same people who pay $0.99-$4.99 for a game and play it the same amount of time. A lot of people just don't play mobile games for more than 30 minutes, regardless of what the game is. With Saturday Morning RPG, you had to play the game for at least and hour to even need to consider buying something. That really wasn't a good idea for us. I'm not discounting the fact that many of those people who quit after 30 minutes might have legitimately hated the game. I'm sure there is a lot of people that fit that bill. I just think we would have come out of release with a much larger financial gain if we hadn't been free.
We also realized too late that the first episode really pales in comparison to the second. It's just not representative of the full experience. It's important to form expectations with the free content, and I think we did that poorly. We're actually at the point where we can tell if a reviewer of our game has played Episode 2 or not, just by the way they describe the game. I really wish we had put out a better introductory episode.
Well, Episode 3 sounds great so far. We look forward to playing it. Best of luck to the team.